A Linked History: A World Voices Festival Reading List From Jeremy Tiang
Singapore and Malaysia have a complex, linked history, and the linguistic and cultural multiplicity of these two countries is evident in the body of literature they have produced. Although severely underrepresented on the world literary stage, Singapore and Malaysia have a great deal of literary riches to offer, as this list of books shows.
Alfian Sa’at is an accomplished playwright and poet as well as a fiction writer, and this shows in the richness of his language and his great skill at encompassing large stories in singular moments. These short stories are often no more than vignettes, but their brief spans contain entire lifetimes, forming a detailed tapestry of the Malay community in Singapore.
And the Walls Come Crumbling Down, Tania De Rozario (Math Paper Press, 2016)
Math Paper Press
Land is scarce on the small island of Singapore, and housing can be a flashpoint. Tania De Rozario takes property as the theme of her memoir, recounting the many places she has lived, excavating the emotions and recollections that have seeped into every cranny. A clear-eyed look at personal history and trauma, told with wit and compassion.
A bitingly funny account of the Rajasekharans, an Indian family in Malaysia. Jumping between multiple times and perspectives, the darkly comic shenanigans of the parents and children give way to something much more sinister, all wrapped up in Preeta Samarasan’s fantastically vivid language. A propulsive narrative that keeps you reading, even as you wince for every character.
Spiky, surreal short stories that probe the darker corners of Malaysian society, exposing uncertainties and hypocrisies with barbed humor. Ho Sok Fong’s flights of fancy never quite land where you expect them to, and Natascha Bruce’s sure-footed translation leads us adeptly through this treacherous landscape.
A young boy grows up in the jungles of Borneo, then travels to Taiwan for university before finally returning home. Between these two places, he struggles to find himself and his place in the world. The wild imagination of Zhang Guixing’s colorful narrative doesn’t obscure the political realities of the world he is describing, and this coming-of-age novel beautifully illuminates a particular slice of Southeast Asian history and geography.
Pak Suleh was the Penghulu, or headman, of an offshore island, before the Singapore government moved him and his community into apartments on the mainland. When Suleh decides to return to the island, this puts him at odds with his son-in-law, an aspiring politician. Set in 1995, this novel asks what and who Singapore has sacrificed in the name of progress.
Jeremy Tiang is a playwright, novelist, and translator. His translations include novels by Yan Geling, Li Er, Yeng Pway Ngon, Chan Ho-Kei and Yan Ge, as well as two plays by Chen Si’an: Ocean Hotpot and Underpass. His plays include Salesman之死, A Dream of Red Pavilions, and The Last Days of Limehouse. His novel State of Emergency won the Singapore Literature Prize in 2018, and his short story collection It Never Rains on National Day was shortlisted in 2016. He is the managing editor of Pathlight magazine and a member of the literary translation collective Cedilla & Co.